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2018 vs. 2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class: What's the Difference?

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author photo by James Riswick May 2018
  • Virtually identical on the outside
  • Completely updated, more luxurious interior for 2019 model
  • Better on-road manners and safety features for 2019, but still the same old G off-road

What's the difference between the 2018 and 2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class? Well, if you're talking about styling, the answer is "barely anything." They look exactly the same. If you're talking about everything else, though, the answer is "virtually everything." There are only five parts that carry over to the new 2019 G-Class from its predecessor: The door handles, spare tire cover, sun visors, headlight washer nozzles and a bracket somewhere you can't actually see. The term "all-new" is often overused, but this is really as "all-new" as you can get.

There are clearly highlights, though, so let's take a deeper look at the 2019 Mercedes-Benz G 550 and the high-performance Mercedes-AMG G 63 to see if it's worth passing up a 2018 Mercedes G-Class (spoiler: yes it is).

Exterior

The G-Class styling has barely changed in 40 years and people continue to love it, so why on Earth would Mercedes-Benz ever change it? The 2019's door frames are now rounded, the headlights have circular LED accents and the AMG Panamerica grille, with its chrome vertical slats, has been added to the G 63, but that's about it.

However, in terms of dimensions, the G-Class has changed quite a bit. It's 2.1 inches longer, 3 inches wider and its wheelbase has been spread by 1.6 inches. It didn't really get any taller, which is probably for the best. Thanks to an increased use of lighter-weight materials, about 375 pounds was also shaved from its curb weight. All of these numbers are quite significant, and for the most part, serve to make the interior more functional.

Interior

Ah yes, the interior. If the rugged, boxy styling gave the last G-Class a cool old-school charm, its interior was just plain old. Adding leather and retrofitting some of the latest tech helped over the years, but there was never getting around the fact that there were significant packaging issues. The back seat was cramped for such a large, heavy vehicle, the front seat's lack of travel could make it physically uncomfortable for taller drivers and the narrow center console didn't even have room for a proper cupholder.

The 2019 G-Class is a different story. It may be old-school outside, but it's modern-school inside. The controls and switchgear are Mercedes' latest, shared with the S- and E-Class. This includes the giant central display that can essentially join with an optional instrument cluster display. Materials quality has also been raised to match Benz's finest and the range-topping status the G enjoys.

However, the interior's space is literally an even bigger deal. There's a whopping six extra inches of rear seat legroom, bringing the G in line with the regular-wheelbase Range Rover. The front seat remains a bit cramped -- it has nearly four fewer inches of legroom than the Range Rover -- but with two extra inches compared to its predecessor, it's now much friendlier to those of above-average height. The sky-high headroom remains just as welcoming to whatever large, ornamental hat you'd like to wear.

Despite these changes, the G retains some cues, like the passenger-side grab bar mounted on the dash and the three differential lock buttons placed prominently between the new circular center airvents. We also like the square, dash-top tweeter speakers that evoke the raised corner lights located a few feet ahead on the hood.

Mechanicals

The new G's biggest mechanical advancement is the independent front suspension that replaces the old live-axle (this leaves the Jeep Wrangler as the only so-equipped new car). This radically improves on-road handling, while substantial engineering efforts were made to ensure the new G remains a monster off-road. For instance, the various front suspension components were mounted as high as possible to the ladder frame in order to maintain ground clearance and capability. A live axle was kept at the rear to maintain maximum articulation off-road, but four trailing arms were engineered to improve its performance on-road, resulting in both improved handling and ride. The suspension can further be enhanced by multi-mode adaptive dampers, while the steering is now electromechanical rack-and-pinion (like most vehicles these days) versus the 2018's antiquated hydraulic recirculating ball.

Under the hood, the G 550 gets a retuned version of the previous model year's 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 -- both the 2018 and 2019 produce 416 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque, but the rpm in which they achieve that power is different (horsepower peak now arrives much sooner; the torque peak later). The AMG G 63 has an entirely different engine. Out goes the 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 that produced 563 hp and 561 lb-ft of torque, and in goes a different 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 built by AMG that pumps out 577 hp and 627 lb-ft. That's enough of a difference to shave a full second off of its 0-to-60-mile-per-hour time.

Both get a new 9-speed automatic in place of the 7-speed unit, while the all-wheel drive system now proportions power 40 percent front and 60 percent rear, as opposed to the former 50-50 system. This aids acceleration and handling. Both still have the G's trademark front, center and rear locking differentials, but they are now controlled electronically as opposed to pneumatically.

Features & Technology

The G-Class is now available with most of the comfort, convenience and infotainment features available on the S-Class, making it truly the flagship SUV its price tag and presence always suggested it was. From the 12.3-inch COMAND display to the multi-mode massaging front seats, this is one certifiably opulent SUV. The fact that it's one of the most customizable vehicles on the road (the color combinations are nearly endless) gives you the opportunity to specify the right amount of opulence for you.

New features that were not available in 2018 include forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, a driver inattention warning system, LED headlights, multi-mode on-road vehicle settings, multi-mode off-road vehicle settings (G 63), the latest COMAND system with a 12.3-in display and redundant rotary/touchpad controller, the 12.3-in all-digital instrument cluster, a Burmester sound system and a pair of easily accessible front cupholders in the center console. Progress!

Driving Experience

The old G-Class was tippy, heavy and in no way reassuring around corners. The steering was too stiff at low speeds, overly vague and numb at higher speeds, and hesitant to return to center. It was, in short, archaic, and it must've been a major reason people thought twice about buying one.

The new G still has a truck-based ladder frame and live rear axle suspension, it's still 6-foot-4 and 5,350 pounds, and rides on all-terrain tires. However, the modernized steering and front suspension, plus the wider track, have contributed to a vastly improved driving experience. It really is night and day. Though it remains tippy and cumbersome compared to most other luxury SUVs, including the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, its on-road driving dynamics now seem like a purposeful trade-off made for off-roading prowess rather than the result of being engineered during the Carter Administration. We think those same people who thought twice before will probably accept that trade-off now.

But what about the two different 2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class models? The new G 550 is effortlessly quick, possessing a deep, intoxicating rumble as you lay into its responsive accelerator. The G 63 is angrier in sound (its twin side pipes bring the noise even closer to you) and is crazy-quick, but it's also overkill. More importantly, the G 63's AMG-tuned suspension and 22-in wheels contribute to a firmer, often busy ride that ultimately makes it less enjoyable to drive than the G 550. Plus, it's still so tall and heavy that few will ever push it hard enough to really notice its supposedly sharper handling. Frankly, this was largely the case with the 2018 G-Class as well, so in either year, we'd recommend sticking with the G 550.

Safety

As you might have noticed above, many of the 2019 G-Class' new features are advanced accident avoidance driver aids. This should certainly make the new G-Class safer, and although the old one was never crash tested by a third party (and we doubt the new one will be either), one would assume that such a radically re-engineered vehicle will probably perform better in crash tests than one that debuted in 1979. Just a guess. Also, don't discount the 2019 G 550 and AMG G 63's improved handling as a safety feature, as it's now more capable of safely avoiding accidents in the first place.

Conclusions

We can't really think of a way the 2018 G-Class is better than the all-new 2019. Even the old line of "I think the old one looked better" can't possibly apply, as they look the same. OK, so you can no longer get the V12-powered AMG G 65 or the absurdly raised G 550 4x4 model, but this is still Year One for a vehicle whose predecessor lasted for 40 years. Mercedes has to leave something in the tank.

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2018 vs. 2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class: What's the Difference? - Autotrader